I've been covering the dark cloud of controversy that's been looming over Peter Farrelly’s “Green Book,” a film that, in all likelihood, will be nominated for Best Picture, and all this despite Viggo Mortensen uttering the N-word last month at a Q&A, and despite accusations implying that it goes against the current grain of progressive thought, with the term "white savior" having been uttered more than a few times by film journalists.
All of that seems to have not had the desired negative effect the film's detractors have been hoping for, with the film's buzz having picked up some steam lately, with impressive stamina at the box-office and incredible audience scores. By all accounts, "Green Book" is a film that, by the time its release peaks in 3000 or so theaters, will most likely be well-loved by movie fans.
However, with all that being said, another controversy has arisen and this one feels more earned.
Family members of pianist Dr. Donald W. Shirley, played in the film by Mahershala Ali, are now criticizing the lies in the film's narrative. In an interview with Shadow And Act, Dr. Shirley’s nephew, Edwin Shirley III, and brother, Maurice Shirley, claim that the friendship between Dr. Shirley and chauffeur Tony “Lip” Vallelonga, played by Viggo Mortensen, was falsely shown.
Patricia Shirely claims that the film, “inspired by a true friendship” between Shirley and Vallelonga, never existed. “It was an employer-employee relationship,” Patricia said, claiming Dr. Shirley never called Tony a “friend,” and called the relationship “the only kind of relationship that [Dr. Shirley] ever had with any of the people he worked with.”
“You asked what kind of relationship he had with Tony? He fired Tony!” Maurice said. “Which is consistent with the many firings he did with all of his chauffeurs over time…Tony would not open the door, he would not take any bags, he would take his [chauffeur’s] cap off when Donald got out of the car, and several times Donald would find him with the cap off, and confronted him. When you hear that Tony had been with him for 18 months, I can assure you, no chauffeur lasted with my brother for 18 months. Anybody who knew my brother’s temper and had any experience with any of his other chauffeurs—the maximum was the one from right here in Milwaukee from the Urban League that lasted at least two months.”
Another shocker: Dr. Shirley never wanted the film to be made.
“I remember very, very clearly, going back 30 years, my uncle had been approached by Nick Vallelonga, the son of Tony Vallelonga, about a movie on his life, and Uncle Donald told me about it,” Edwin said “He flatly refused.”
Another thing that irked the clan members was the film insinuating that Dr. Shirley was estranged from their family, for which they deem to be absolutely false. “It was rather jarring,” Edwin said, when talking about the family "issues" the film raises, “that was very hurtful. That’s just 100% wrong.” Maurice Shirley, on the other hand, called it a “symphony of lies,” adding, “at that point [in 1962, when the events of the film supposedly take place], he had three living brothers with whom he was always in contact,” [the film claims he didn't know the whereabouts of his "estranged" brother] Maurice said. “One of the things Donald used to remind me in his later years was he literally raised me…There wasn’t a month where I didn’t have a phone call conversation with Donald.”
Edwin and Maurice do mention Mahershala Ali apologizing after hearing about their complaints in an NPR interview last November. “I got a call from Mahershala Ali, a very, very respectful phone call, from him personally,” Maurice said. “He called me and my Uncle Maurice in which he apologized profusely if there had been any offense.”
“What he said was, ‘If I have offended you, I am so, so terribly sorry. I did the best I could with the material I had. I was not aware that there were close relatives with whom I could have consulted to add some nuance to the character,’” added Edwin.